For Diamondbacks’ left-hander Andrew Chafin, there’s not much positive he can say about Tommy John surgery.
Plus, there’s not a great deal to communicate to his five teammates, Daniel Hudson, Matt Reynolds, Bronson Arroyo, David Hernandez and Patrick Corbin, who each experienced the procedure.
To that end, Chafin’s observation was limited to two prophetic words, “it sucks.”
While the vast majority of pitchers experience the torn ligament experience in their pitching elbow as a professional, Chafin’s injury occurred while pitching for Kent State University. Though he sat out the entire 2010 season, his sophomore year, he returned strong in 2011 and the caught the eye of the Diamondbacks’ scouting system. As a result, Chafin was selected as a supplemental first round selection (43rd overall) in the 2011 draft.
While his recovery is considered complete and the Kettering, Ohio native continues to achieve a strong strikeout/inning ratio, his advise to fellow teammates is limited.
“What happens to a pitcher is just tough luck,” he said in the clubhouse before Sunday’s game with the Rockies. “No, I have not talked to the others at length and it’s really up to each individual on how they handle the situation.”
For Chafin, the injury was not discovered well into his freshman season at Kent State, and, initially, left essentially untreated.
“At first, I felt a slight discomfort when I only extended my arm and not when I was throwing,” he indicated. “Then, pain developed and at first, they thought it was a pinched nerve. So, I continued to pitch but the pain increased.”
At that point, Chafin said he made an executive decision.
“Let’s get to the bottom of this and get an MRI,” he said. “That when the tear was revealed and the surgery.”
After that 12 to 18 month recovery, Chafin returned to college baseball and responded with 105 strikeouts in 89 innings and an ERA of 2.02 for the 2011 season. That lifted him near the top of the Diamondbacks’ scouting charts. This was also the year when Ray Montgomery, Arizona’s director of scouting and Kevin Towers, the team’s general manager, took pitchers Trevor Bauer as the third pick overall and Archie Bradley, at number seven, in the same draft as Chafin.
Moving into the D-backs’ organization, Chafin appeared in one game for the rookie Diamondbacks in the Arizona League in 2011 and then cranked up his career the year after.
In 2012, he showed no residual affect from the surgery and went 6-6 for Advanced-A Visalia in 22 starts. Here, Chafin’s strikeout/innings ratio represented a testament to his health for the lefty fanned 150 hitters in 122.1 innings.
At Double A-Mobile last season, the Ks continued to pile. In going 10-7 for the BayBears, Chafin struck out 118 hitters in 126.1 innings and recorded a 10-7 record.
For the current season, Chafin, combined at Mobile and Triple-A Reno before his recall to the Diamondbacks on August 8, went 8-6 and a 3.96 ERA. Still, numbers continued to be impressive. In 131.2 innings with the BayBears and Aces, Chafin struck out 102 batters in 131.1 innings.
That all added to a promotion at the major league level. Now, manager Kirk Gibson is looking for ways to bring Chafin into his first major league game.
Pundits thought that may have occurred Saturday night. That’s when the Diamondbacks were cruising 14-4 in the ninth but Gibson had other ideas.
“We didn’t break the game open until late and I was ready to go with (Addison) Reed in the ninth,” Gibson said. “If we were up by four, I was going to (Matt) Stites but no one thought we get nine in the eighth inning. Plus, Chafin is a starter and needs more time to than the relievers to get ready. I can’t get (Chafin) up in a hurry so there are different things to consider.”
While Gibson and Towers continue to find ways to get Chafin in his first major league game, his presence in the clubhouse and around his teammates offer a renewed support for those pitchers facing a long and arduous road back and into a Sedona Red uniform.